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October 23, 2005

Useful Corrections Department

Posted by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

Tony Vila has helpfully pointed out that I gave too much credit to Democratic leaning gerrymandering leading to the domination of the House of Representatives up until 1994. Remember, in the 1980s, Reagan Democrats were, well, Reagan Democrats. Today, they're registered Republicans, or their children are. So up until that time Democrats regularly won at least a small majority of the popular vote. Winner-take all elections, rather than proportional representation will always exaggerate the dominance of the majority party.

Vila points out that if, say, 52% of the population nationwide votes for the Republican candidate, an even distribution of voters would mean that 52% of every district votes for the Republican candidate, which would mean we'd live in a one-party state! In practice, this never happens, since party identity has since time immemorial been linked to regional, ethnic, cultural, or ideological identity, for better or worse.

So, it's harder to estimate the impact of gerrymandering, except in clear cases such as 1996, where Democrats couldn't produce a majority in the house despite a majority in the popular vote, and 2004, where Democrats lost seats despite gaining ground in the popular vote.

October 23, 2005 | Permalink


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This shouldn't be too hard to figure out. Take the total number of popular votes for Democratic congressional reps and Republican congressional reps. Such data must be available, every two years.

Of course, since they're seperate district elections, with 435 districts, totalling up all of them would be the sumof 870 numbers.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Oct 23, 2005 11:58:13 PM

Not exactly sure what you mean isn't hard Julian. The point is that a small majority spread out well will garner a very disproportionately lop-sided majority of Representatives. The hard part is in figuring out

In fact, short-sighted gerry-mandering (as compared to the anti-gerrymandering proposals of neutral commissions, who tend to value regional and cultural compactness) creates more fluctuations in representation and hurts incumbents. Look at it this way, you have a city and it's slightly large suburbs and two representatives. Most commissions would propose that the city get a representative (probably Democrat) and the suburbs get a representative (probably Republican). Once elected, those guys will never leave.

But, a short-sighted Republican leader would try to make it into two districts, each with equal amounts of city and more suburbs. And when the country has a slight majority Republican, it will elect two Republicans. But when the country shifts the next year because of some unpopular scandal or policy, then both districts could pop Democrat. In the anti-gerrymandering world, it would take a lot for either Representative to ever get unelected.

So really it's a matter of what is more important to you. The right to be in an electoral district that shares your beliefs and guaranteeing a representative, or the ability of an electorate to dramatically change it's legislature.

Posted by: Tony Vila | Oct 24, 2005 2:25:44 PM

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